48 essays by Elizabeth Shé

Essay #14: joy is a vitamin

In Love on June 6, 2011 at 3:42 pm

“I’ve wasted enough time not being happy,” said Jessica Lange (Oprah Magazine, April 2009). “I regret those times I’ve chosen the dark side.”

So many brilliant, beautiful women choose the dark side: actors, writers, mothers. There’s tons in the arts, exploring the seamy side of life. Which is fine. But when it becomes your only reality, when it became my only reality, it almost killed me. I forgot about joy. I turned away from love. Happiness was a myth I couldn’t access. I was out of balance — koyaanisqatsi.

Now that I’ve found my happiness code, where do I install it? Everywhere? Every day?

A few weeks ago I tried to talk myself into auditioning for a play I do not like, produced by a playhouse I do not respect, for minimal pay. I thought it would be “good” for me, good practice. The day of the audition I woke up crying.

I finally let myself cancel the appointment. A week or so later, in conversation with an actor who worked with this particular playhouse, I learned that rehearsals are grueling and the director mean and moody. I had been spared.

I’ve spent way too much time making myself do things I don’t want to. I defer fun until the house is clean and the dishes are done and I have a good-paying job.

But joy is a vitamin – you need a little every day. “One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats,” wrote Iris Murdoch.

Continuous small treats.
And they don’t have to cost much. I can treat myself by making spaghetti al pesce for dinner, blowing bubbles, rollerskating, dancing, jumping in the water, picking flowers. Playing.

Recently I made French toast for breakfast. I had the right bread and my favorite syrup and plenty of butter. As I was cooking, I felt an upwelling of pleasure and happiness. “You gave me what I want!” The kid in me danced around and laughed. “Thank you!”

My French toast happiness fed me for days. Everything was easier — work, communicating, even running errands.

Joy is so much cheaper than misery.
Try it.

  1. Toying with the dark side can be an interesting exercise and can help one appreciate the joys of the lighter side, treats like spaghetti al pesce, French toast, or the sharing of one’s joy.

    Thank you.

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